Soviet Union

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Newspapers, television and social media were filled this weekend with stories about the Berlin Wall. In case you were not paying attention, it came down 25 years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989. Thousands of young men and women, trapped in the East German police state, decided on that cool evening that they would no longer tolerate their collective imprisonment by a repressive regime. They pushed their way into the more prosperous and freer West Berlin, and they demanded rights and opportunities long denied. After decades of restriction, this movement was possible because the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, made it clear that he would not use force, as Moscow had in the past, to prevent popular change. Other foreign leaders, including Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, contributed to the atmosphere of peace and cooperation that encouraged people to take history into their own hands. 

And they did, with enormous courage and speed. In a little more than two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East and West Germany were reunited, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia held free elections, and the Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 separate states. The global struggle between communism and capitalism ended with the collapse of the former. The persistent terror of thermonuclear war eased as the countries with the largest nuclear arsenals no longer threatened to launch these horrible weapons against one another. The Cold War era of fear and conflict opened into a period of great hope and newfound cooperation between a new Russia, a new European Union and a revitalized United States. 

It was a great time to be young. I remember it very well. When I entered high school in 1986 the Soviet Union was still the “evil empire.” When I graduated in 1990 the world was freer and safer than ever before. As we started college, my fellow students and I felt like we could do anything. The possibilities seemed endless. If citizens in East Germany could tear down the Berlin Wall, then we surely could do something big. After all, we had educational opportunities foreign citizens could only dream about, and we had access to resources they could not even imagine. 

Our privilege in a time of great change inspired a deep sense of obligation. As children of the end of the Cold War, we felt a mission to make the world a better place, to show that we could make the promises of the moment real. Many of my classmates did just that. They created Google, they invented life-saving medical procedures, they founded new human rights organizations, they became respected judges and some even wrote books and taught talented students. Our career paths included comfortable compensation but also awareness that there was something more. Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall at a formative moment in our lives, we were all idealists and true believers. 

Slowly, however, the idealism from 1989 has faded throughout our society and the wider world. Maybe our expectations were too high, and we were bound to be disappointed. Maybe we overestimated ourselves and underestimated the corruption, sectarianism, violence and greed that remained present in a post-Cold War world. Maybe — and this one stings — we did not live up to our own moral commitments. Yes, I mean all of us who received a burst of opportunity in 1989. Have we been true to our ideals and aspirations?

I am afraid the answer might be a qualified yes, at best. Our generation, now in our early 40s, contributes more than any before to philanthropy, but we also spend more of our time working than our predecessors. Are we working longer hours to build a better world? Is there a correlation between time in the office and contributions to society? My fear is that the relationship might be inversely correlated. 

Despite the frequent criticisms we voice about our society today, we have mastered operating within the system rather than changing it. We are professionals, not revolutionaries; innovators, not reformers. Instead of tearing down walls, we seem to spend more of our time reinforcing them and building new ones. For evidence of this, look at our southern border, our prisons, our gated communities and our airports. We limit people’s movement for security and we separate populations for control. We are less free and open as a society today than we were 25 years ago, and we have accepted that and learned to live with it. 

The memory of 1989 should encourage us to question our present. The young men and women who brought down the Berlin Wall were tenacious in their pursuit of freedom and justice. They put their lives on the line for a dream of a better world, and they made it a reality. Isn’t it time we all did the same? There are plenty of good causes in need of attention. What our current world really needs is more citizens willing to tear down the walls rather than live comfortably within them. 

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Jack Matlock, former United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, visited the LBJ Library on Tuesday and said current American-Russian relations are intensifying.

Matlock said he fears the aggression between the U.S. and Russia is relatively high.

“The rhetoric now in Russia and Washington reminds us of the height of the Cold War,” Matlock said. “I don’t think we are entering a new cold war, even though the rhetoric sounds like it.”

In the modern political climate, Matlock believes the U.S. is taking the wrong steps in addressing Russia.

“I think we have gotten ourselves in a very dangerous situation, in terms of our relationship, in part, because we have failed to understand some of the lessons we should have learned when we ended the Cold War,” Matlock said.

After studying at Duke University, Matlock attended Columbia University, where he specialized in Russian studies. Matlock went on to teach at Dartmouth College, but decided he wanted more from his occupation later on.

“He decided he could do better things than teaching nasty undergrads,” government professor Zoltan Barany said. “He had an explicit goal in mind to become the American ambassador to the Soviet Union.”

Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library, said Matlock’s involvement in the Cold War makes him an ideal source for information on the contemporary relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

“There are few who know more and were more instrumental in the ending of the Cold War than Jack Matlock,” Updegrove said.

Matlock, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia, said the notion that the U.S. single-handedly brought an end to communism is incorrect. He said Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union and general secretary of the communist party, brought communism to an end in the Soviet Union.

“It wasn’t military pressure, but Gorbachev, who, step by step, removed the party from control,” Matlock said. “He was able to do that because the Cold War was over and the lack of military pressure from the outside freed him up to try internal reforms.”

Matlock said the Cold War ended before the Soviet Union collapsed, and communism still existed in the Soviet Union years after the Cold War had come to an end.

“What actually ended the Cold War was negotiations, backed by strength, but it wasn’t strength alone,” Matlock said. “As much as we negotiated an end to the Cold War, we proved the power of diplomacy, rather than the power of military strength.”

Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and his translator, Pavel Palazchenko, speak with Mark Updegrave, Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library at The University of Texas at Austin Tuesday evening. During the event, which was part of the Harry Middleton Lecture Series, Gorbachev urged the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the formation of a New World Order.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

Former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev urged the United States to pull out of Afghanistan and work with Russia and other countries to create a new world order in a lecture at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Tuesday night.

Gorbachev spoke as a part of the Harry Middleton Lectureship series, an initiative by the LBJ Foundation to expose students to high profile speakers. He gave his thoughts on Iran, Afghanistan and Barack Obama. When asked about Russia’s current political state, Gorbachev said he thinks current Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin should not run for a third term as president. Putin served as president of Russia from 2000 to 2008 and has remained as prime minister.

Gorbachev said Putin inherited a very difficult situation from former president Boris Yeltsin and implemented an extreme authoritarian style of government as his way of addressing the needs of the nation. It was perhaps understandable that Putin used certain authoritarian styles in his leadership because of political and economic unrest, Gorbachev said, but using authoritarian methods in general is wrong.

“Whenever you have leaders that rule 20 years or more, the only thing important to those leaders is holding on to power,” Gorbachev said.

Although Gorbachev said he does not make it a habit to give advice to other countries, he said the U.S. should learn from the mistakes of countries like Russia when dealing with issues in Iran and Afghanistan.

“I hope you will consider this because we are making these suggestions in good faith,” Gorbechev said. “Russia never intended to fight America, and our policy resulted in a division in the world.”

Gorbachev said one of the main reasons for the current U.S. domestic unrest and situation in the Middle East and Europe date back to the end of the Cold War when the U.S. declared victory. Gorbachev said America acted arrogantly and tried to build a new empire instead of working together with other countries and needs to think in terms of cooperation for the future.

Referencing the late Pope John Paul II, Gorbachev said the world needs a world order that is more stable, more just and more human.

“We need to start to think of how to live in a new world [where we address] security, poverty and challenges to the environment,” Gorbachev said.

Gorbachev is considered an influential leader in history for his role in ending the Cold War in 1989 and introducing widespread democratic reform in Russia. Gorbachev said the introduction of his Perestroika and Glasnost policies, which democratized the Communist political system, eased economic restrictions and granted people freedom of speech and press, was his administration’s response to his people’s cry for change.

He received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War in 1990 and currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an organization dedicated to aid the spread of democracy and economic liberty. He is also the head of Green Cross, a group that addresses poverty, security and environmental degradation.

When asked about President Barack Obama, Gorbachev said he supports the current president and that current U.S. conflicts do not fall onto Obama’s shoulders alone because he inherited problems from other presidents. Gorbachev said it is not only a strong leader, but a strong country, that is important when the country calls for change.

LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler said the LBJ Library worked to find a date for Gorbachev to speak at the library for nearly a year. She said more than 1,000 people attended Gorbachev’s lecture.

LBJ Library director Mark Updegrove moderated the discussion with Gorbachev. Updegrove said he hoped students at the event would learn about the importance of Gorbachev’s role in history and his legacy as a man of peace.

“What we know is all of Gorbachev’s predecessors resisted the openness and reforms that were the hallmark during his tenure in office,” Updegrove said. “While it’s difficult to speculate on what would have happened [had Gorbachev not been in control], chances are the Cold War may have ended in bloodshed.”

Yekaterina Cotey, a comparative literature graduate student who grew up in Russia, said she remembers Gorbachev’s economic reforms and how they affected her family. Cotey said she and her family have mixed feelings about Gorbachev, but understand he played a large role in their lives.

“It’s not possible to imagine life without him,” Cotey said. “If it wasn’t for him and disintegration of the Soviet Union, I wouldn’t be here right now.” 

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with foreign investors in Moscow on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. (Photo Courtesy of Yana Lapikova)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lauded himself Monday as Russia’s hardest-working leader since World War II, putting himself above Communist-era titans like Stalin and Khrushchev in his first lengthy interview since announcing that he will return to the presidency next year.

The nationally televised display of bravado was remarkable even for a man known for his extreme self-confidence, obsession with his public image and virtually unquestioned control over Russia’s most important institutions.

Putin announced last month that he will run for a third term as president in March elections, and his victory is seen as a certainty. He told the heads of Russia’s three national television channels that the Soviet Union’s Communist-era leaders were not physically capable and willing to run the country the way he does.

“I can’t recall Soviet leadership after World War II who worked as hard,” the former KGB colonel said. “They did not know what to do because of their physical capabilities or misunderstandings.”

The channel heads took turns asking Putin a series of polite questions that ranged from deferential to obsequious. One of them compared Putin to a hawk — to which the prime minister replied with a condescending smile.

“A hawk is a good birdie,” he said. “But I am against any cliches.”

None of the interviews questioned Putin’s favorable comparison of himself to the Soviet Union’s post-WWII leaders.

Those leaders include Joseph Stalin, who turned most of Eastern Europe into a Communist bloc; Nikita Khrushchev, who provoked the Caribbean missile crisis, sent the first man in space and banged his shoe on the table in the United Nations promising to “bury” the Western world; and Mikhail Gorbachev, who started perestroika and the democratic changes that led — against his will — to the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Putin accused his Communist-era predecessors of making people feel unsafe and monopolizing ideological and economic power in ways that led to the collapse.

Printed on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 as: Putin praises self as most hardworking Russian leader

After North Korea launched artillery shells that killed four South Koreans last week, the Korean community in Austin expressed their concern for both countries and said they were saddened by the impoverished living conditions of North Korean people.

Richard Jung, vice president of the Korean American Association of Greater Austin, said South Koreans want to help the North Korean people by donating money, but they are hesitant to send money when the corrupt North Korean government spends it on its army.

“It is a dictatorship,” he said. “The people are starving to death, and they are still buying luxury goods for the elite.”

The division of the peninsula began during World War II, when the Soviet Union controlled North Korea and the U.S. controlled South Korea.

While South Korea’s capitalist economy thrives, the people of North Korea live in poverty under the rule of the country’s communist regime, Jung said. The countries have seen violent conflict for several decades.

“Living area is so concentrated,” Jung said. “South Korea is about the size of Indiana, and in one day of serious shelling, you could kill a lot of people.”

For years, the U.S. and five of North Korea’s neighboring countries have tried to negotiate with the communist country to dismantle its nuclear weapon programs in six-party international conferences.

“Economics play a big role in concerns over escalating tensions in Northeast Asia,” said journalism professor Tracy Dahlby in an e-mail.

Dahlby served as the Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post and Newsweek.

“The group is designed to act as a diplomatic forum for handling security issues in the region and to keep a lid on tensions on the Korean Peninsula that could affect the peace and security in the area and, ultimately, have a spoiler affect on the global economy,” he said.

Journalism junior Ann Choi holds dual American and South Korean citizenships. She said the people of South Korea are accustomed to attacks and threats by their northern enemy, and the conflict has always been among the military and government.

“[Violence] is North Korea’s only way of communicating with the outside world,” Choi said. “The only shocking part was that they fired towards
civilians.”

Choi also said the conflict is largely related to the political and economic issues in
North Korea.

“Our community first should start speaking up against the injustice of North Korea and the devastating conditions,” Choi said.

A 2008 UT alumnus, Don Choi is now a Presbyterian seminarian in Austin. He was an officer in student group Liberty in North Korea when he was a UT student.

Don Choi said he strongly supports preserving the human dignity of North Koreans and is afraid the United States’ portrayal of North Korea will be similar to the “dehumanizing tactics” they used when describing the Soviet Union during the Cold War.